Fans ring in 2012 season on Spirit Hill

Two young fans dance with UNA’s Leo on Spirit Hill before the Harding game on Sept. 8.

Coolers, camping chairs, Solo cups, and smiling faces – UNA’s Spirit Hill has everything a tailgater would expect and more, according to those who frequent it.

Located directly beside Braly Stadium, and flanked by purple, gold and white tents, Spirit Hill is where many UNA fans come to kick off their game day.

“It’s one of the best parts of the game,” said Anita Parker, junior at UNA.

A stage with a live band stands on Royal Avenue near the stadium entrance; in front of the stage, students such as sophomore baseball player Drew Mobley play cornhole and can jam, where students throw a hacky sack or Frisbee into small holes from a few feet away.

“(My favorite part of tailgating is) just being with everybody and hanging out with friends,” Mobley said.

Freshman Matthew Johnson said he likes tailgating at Spirit Hill better than tailgating at other, bigger schools.

“I like it here better because it’s more like a family,” Johnson said.

Johnson tailgates on the hill near the intersection of Hermitage Drive and Royal Avenue with friend Nolan Coffey and others. Coffey encourages any UNA student to come join their tailgate.

The tents on Spirit Hill house student groups, such as Residence Life and Greek students, as well as alumni and other groups of fans and students.

The SGA tent, located close to the stadium entrance, offers free food, drinks and spirit items. At the remaining 2012 home games, the organization will offer free T-shirts to the first 100 students.

“We are just trying to promote athletics and overall school spirit,” said UPC Spirit Chair LeAnne Vogel.

Behind the SGA tent is The Mane Tailgate, where a group of alumni and professors set up shop for every home game. Among them are local chiropractor Cary Burnley, UNA elementary education professor Lisa Clayton, and UNA English professors Christa Raney and Tammy Winner.

Clayton said their tent is all about family – next to their main tent is a smaller tent just for the kids.

“Our kids grow up to be little UNA Lions starting at birth here,” Clayton said.

UNA Vice President of Student Affairs David Shields said UNA tailgating has grown significantly in recent years.

“Student participation has grown tremendously,” Shields said.

In addition to increased student support, Shields said UNA has worked to provide a fun atmosphere by adding things such as the live bands and a moon bounce for kids.

Shields also said tailgating on Spirit Hill is special because everyone is friendly, and you can bounce from one tent to the next talking to people and filling yourself with free food.

“I like coming here because this is a place where everybody knows everybody,” Shields said.